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Guest Opinion: When democracy is hijacked

Original post made on Feb 3, 2017

Monday night, in a brazen display of power, some members of the Palo Alto City Council massacred our Comprehensive Plan, the shared long-term vision that guides all of the city's work.

Read the full guest opinion by Councilmember Tom DuBois here Web Link posted Friday, February 3, 2017, 12:00 AM

Comments (77)

Posted by Monday Night Massacre
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 3, 2017 at 4:50 am

Thank you Tom for the excellent summary. It's heartbreaking that a slim council majority would annihilate a carefully-crafted community consensus in order to help a few cronies. Palo Alto sadly now has a government of the developers, by the developers, and for the developers.

Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 3, 2017 at 6:23 am

Editors an the Palo Alto Weekly shouldn't complain - they helped to elect 4 of the 5 members they are criticizing in this editoral, by endorsing them (Kniss, Scharff, Fine, Wolbach). Both Kniss and Scharff had records based on their previous term on the city council, and the editors should not be suprised that they acted in the manner that they did.

The editors should review their process for endorsing candidates and figure out why they have been such poor selections.

Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 3, 2017 at 6:53 am

First Kniss and Tenaka hid developer money from voters that was poured into their election campaigns till after the election, now they do this. Shame on them - residents deserve council members with integrity. They, along with council members Wolbach, Fine, and Scharff have harmed Palo Alto with their hubris Monday night, and reveal a lack of judgement that is breathtaking. Unfortunately with this vote it seems that Fine will be welded to Wolbach in believing the ends justifies the means to achieve whatever goals their shared ideological zeal demands, to build big, dense and unaffordable to placate lobbyists for Silicon Valley corporations such as Palintir.
That a Citizen Advisory Committee's work of this magnitude was trashed is unprecedented and will resonate in distrust and cynicism for a long time in Palo Alto. And good luck getting CAC volunteers in the future.

Posted by Kettle is black
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 3, 2017 at 7:00 am

Dubois should not be complaining. During the 2 years that the PASZ group were in charge they routinely overturned rulings allowing building to go forward. They were hijacking democracy to push their no growth agenda.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 3, 2017 at 8:07 am

Arthur Keller would have been a much better choice. Such a shame his wisdom was overlooked by uneducated voters.

Yes I know many voters wanted someone other than Arthur, but there were many middle of the road voters who hadn't done their homework.

Posted by Cheryl Lilienstein
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 3, 2017 at 8:16 am

Dear Kettle,
You are wrong, and uninformed. The PASZ group was not involved in the Comprehensive Plan Citizen's Advisory Committee that did years of volunteer work in order to hammer out a good land use plan for the city. The CAC represented diverse viewpoints of the residents and its members were chosen by the City Manager. If you saw the roster you'd see that the majority are pro-growth. So they too should be disgusted by the city council's disregard for their hard work. They spent COUNTLESS HOURS trying to make a good document better by orienting it to the near future, and hammering out compromises that were thoughtful expressions of diverse viewpoints. So shame on the council.

Posted by Kettle is black
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 3, 2017 at 8:19 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by Cheryl Lilienstein
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 3, 2017 at 8:28 am

also, Kettle:
PASZ has never been "in charge." Pat Burt would affirm that, for sure. But IF that had been the case the city would be less embattled about developments residents don't like, and probably more beautiful instead of less. Yes, we played a role in trying to amend council decisions and minimize overwhelming developments that continue to increase traffic and erode quality of life. Maybe this recent turnabout in the city council's "democracy" will encourage people to join us....

Posted by Neilson Buchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 3, 2017 at 9:00 am

The Monday night massacre is just the beginning. Other insults to quality of life are on the Council's horizons.

1. Approval of 2000 non resident parking permits to subsidize University Ave landlords who do not provide parking for their tenants. Less than 1400 non resident permits have been sold in the past 11 months.
2. Pushing non-resident vehicle parking further and further from the University Ave commercial core. This is in direct conflict with the state vehicles codes which enables permit parking programs.
3. Consideration to kill off the business registry which is the primary data source to manage parking and traffic. The registry was designed to fail so the response is to kill it rather than improve it. Worst option!
4. Effectively shelving the Annual Citizens Survey which objectively shows multi-year declining public opinion.
5. Stay tuned for contagious power politics.

Posted by Citizens together
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 3, 2017 at 9:36 am

Residents need to stop complaining and stop waiting for someone else to do the heavy lifting. If you want to save Palo Alto from being turned into a full on office park with worse traffic it's necessary for each citizen to act, get together with others, and figure out where your power to change things rests.

Kniss and Tanaka should be recalled over the deceptive election practices, and at the very least, a recall effort will shed light on the deception.

Organize and figure out what recourse you have to stop this. You have recourse, but you have to understand the law and act. The state will not do it for you, even though this probably grossly violates the law. Citizens can throw out the comp plan the Council has just made because there are requirements around citizen involvement, traffic circulation, etc, but you have to learn what your rights are.

I cannot help, I wish I could. Just realize residents are not powerless unless each one decides someone else will do something, then no one does.

Posted by Fast and Furious
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 3, 2017 at 9:54 am

I haven't seen any mention of one of the huge decisions that was made with no discussion whatsoever - it seemed to have been pre-determined in private by Fast Five - changing our hotel FAR to 3.0. There was mention of reducing FAR last year below 2.0 and that was in the Comp Plan draft because of some of the massive hotels we got with the current 2.0 FAR. Instead a proposal was made and voted on immediately to raise it to 3.0. I'm not even sure what 3.0 would look like - its more massive than anything we currently have in our zoning.

Isn't there some rule that votes should be discussed in public and not decided by 5 people prior to the meeting?

Posted by Ray
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 3, 2017 at 10:08 am

HEY! Palo Alto has become big time! Just like Washington. New administration? throw out everything the previous government did. As Joseph Welch, the Chief Counsel in committee hearings, said to Senator McCarthy, "You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? [and Madam] At long last, have you left no sense of decency?" Remember the adage, Be careful what you wish (vote) for. You might just get it. Remember the good ol' days when traffic was merely terrible? Bette Davis, "Fasten your seat belts; it's going to be a bumpy night!"

Posted by Carol Gilbert
a resident of University South
on Feb 3, 2017 at 10:19 am

Argh!!! Yikes!!! and Yuck!!!

Posted by Thrown under the truck...-
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 3, 2017 at 10:52 am

[Portion removed.]

These are not my values! How can we organize against this?

Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Feb 3, 2017 at 11:24 am

Given the fact that most of the people upset by this are the same ones who can't even admit that a housing crisis exists, perhaps some self reflection is in order, as opposed to digging in deeper with wild conspiratorial claims?

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 3, 2017 at 11:29 am

Annette is a registered user.

Thank you, Council Member DuBois. I watched the full recording of the meeting and think you have accurately summed up what transpired. [Portion removed.] Essentially no discussion or debate, just unilateral action that decimated the Comp Plan. And landed a damaging blow to integrity, trust, and credibility. As awful as some of the decisions were, the worst thing is to see that we have a Mayor who thinks it is okay to squelch discussion, four council members who support him, and a city attorney who said nothing to stop the action. For those of you who are okay with the results, I have to ask how you can, really, be okay with the process. This time it may favor your preferences but a very bad precedent has been set Debate is healthy; it leads to more reasoned decisions. We really have hit a new low.

Posted by Being Fooled By DeBois
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 3, 2017 at 12:02 pm

This editorial and Tom Dubois [portion removed] -- presenting his "alternative facts" as facts to get everyone riled up without ensuring the public is informed of what really happened. Let's see the report changes [portion removed.] This is Tom Debois' re-election campaign in editorial form -- getting "free media" by offering up unverified opinion. This plan has been around for 9 years! It means there's almost no chance for any progress without some necessary changes -- the "no growth" contingent in Palo Alto uses [portion removed] data to attack and hold hostage the entire city, keeping rents high, not allowing for growth and building a wall of no progress that WE are all paying for.

A massacre? Really? The audacity of this over-the-top privileged language comparing a city council meeting focused on balanced development and growth to a "massacre" shows the willingness to use hype and scare tactics to gain power.

[Portion removed.]

Posted by Barbara
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 3, 2017 at 12:08 pm

Citizens Together -- great points you made, but unfortunately, nothing is simple. My opinion -- very little will be done, if anything; it's not worth the time and trouble "spinning one's wheels" when we can count on zilch improvement. Growth will continue no matter. Traffic will worsen, housing will continue to fill in whatever open space is available, etc. What a shame! How sad.

Posted by Neilson Buchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 3, 2017 at 1:19 pm

To understand the full context of our city government, please read the related information

Posted by Cheryl Lilienstein
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 3, 2017 at 1:20 pm

@ being
If you were there or watched the proceeding maybe you could add light instead of heat by clarifying what you think is okay with this process and result.

Posted by Kenneth
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 3, 2017 at 1:22 pm

A camel is a horse designed by committee. Good for the city council to take the reins of the horse and drive it over the horizon. Elections have consequences. Just make sure that any more subsidized housing is built in our elite neighborhoods...which means that it won't be built!

Posted by Dan
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 3, 2017 at 2:02 pm

This council action appears really insulting to everyone who worked on the Comp Plan. The new council majority just wants to keep the "high level" aspirational puppies and kittens goals and strip out any of the hard practical implementation details so they are free to argue that ANY growth/development course of action fits within the Comp Plan. To me this invalidates the legitimacy of the Comp Plan and should leave it open to legal challenges from all sides since its supposed to involve active citizen input which has now been mostly ignored i.e. business as usual.

Posted by True Residentialist
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 3, 2017 at 2:12 pm

Oh goodness, Mr. DuBois, I'm sorry you're in the minority now. But it's not "hijacking democracy" for you not to get your way or for a new majority to adopt a different policy.

You can watch hours and hours of council meetings under the previous majority at which well considered and planned developments have been killed not with an honest up or down vote, but a death of a thousand cuts and numerous referrals back to committee. Members of the Council delegated their own responsibilities to "volunteers" as a dilatory tactic. Want to stop anything meaningful from happening? Give it to a "blue ribbon committee" instead of adopting a simple up or down vote.

Dragging all progress in a community to a halt by "deliberating" is the strategy of the previous PASZ majority. And it allowed them to sit on a high horse and claim they were being "reasonable" by "studying" death.

Elections have consequences and legislative majorities get to exercise discretion. You have another election in two years, and you can campaign on your zero-growth agenda for our city then.

Posted by No More Offices
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 3, 2017 at 2:49 pm

Housing would be far less of a problem if there were not so many offices downtown.

Kicking Palantir out would free up 20 buildings for condos immediately!

This IS a residential city! The office park is supposed to be on Page Mill!

Posted by Acting on their premises
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 3, 2017 at 2:55 pm

The new council premised to focus on balanced solutions. It seems like they're cleaning up a years long process that has been dominated by the nimby faction. I'm just glad we have reasonable council in time to adopt the new plan!

Posted by Stop Alternative Facts
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 3, 2017 at 3:34 pm

@ no more offices.
Planter doesn't own one building in downtown. If you kick them out they'll just be replaced with other businesses and you still won't have housing.
DuBois seems to indicate that the Council threw out all the work of the CAC. That's just not true -- seems like he's stating "alternative facts". I've attended many of the CAC meetings and there isn't a consensus at all. All the PASZers who pander and say they want housing but go against development are disingenuous. Besides, every developer isn't bad -- who do you think built your Eichlers? I bet the folks who lived in Palo Alto in the early 50s screamed and yelled that the developers were ruining all the beautiful orchards that they enjoyed. Get a grip -- change happens -- figure out a way to grow the city to be more inclusive and diverse instead of a haven for the wealthy and stop being so closed minded.

Posted by Recall
a resident of another community
on Feb 3, 2017 at 3:40 pm

Sounds to me like it might be time for a recall. Misleading the voters is a concern. We see signs of plans to encourage rampant growth departing with past restraint

It just takes one recall of a pro-developer-frenzy council member to put things back to balance.

Yes, it's always a contest between housing and sensible growth. Adding housing doesn't have to mean height. 50 feet is PLENTY to add housing.

And it's Palantir, not Planter.

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 3, 2017 at 3:41 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Some of the posts suggest that there's a mistaken belief that previous Councils were dominated by members aligned with PASZ. That has never been the case. The last Council came the closest to that as it included several so-called residentialists. There were 4, not 5. Said differently, there was no PASZ or Residentialist majority. Quite the opposite. We do not FINALLY have a Council that will do something and get us past an obstructionist do-nothing Council tradition. You are pointing the finger of blame for processes and decisions at a majority that never existed.

I do not recall a time that the PACC had a majority of slow-growth, smart-growth, or no-growth members. That just hasn't happened.

Posted by RECALL
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 3, 2017 at 3:48 pm

Back to the days of back room deals, forwarding the interest of development industry interests and disparaging residents.

Greg Scharff will leave a legacy of egotistical self boosting interests.

- 27 University back room negotiations
- selling off 7.7 acres of open space land that was gifted to the City and residents of Palo Alto
- Grand Jury investigation
- approving a loan to PAHC even before their proposal for rezoning Maybell was brought before council
- approving spot zoning
- caused of the Maybell referendum because he went into mediation to check box he did it

Let's add traffic congestion and parking wars to the list.

Will there be another referendum on Greg Scharff's watch?

Recall Scharff, Kniss, Wolbach, Tanaka and Fine. Who's with me???

Posted by Anne
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 3, 2017 at 4:14 pm

@RECALL, I am with you. Thanks for your editorial, Tom.

Posted by Voters wanted it
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 3, 2017 at 4:35 pm

Not surprising that the weekly gave Dubois crate Blanche to use charged language, alternative facts and plain old everyday sore loser attitude to push the agenda that 4 council members, Cheryl lillienstein, PASZ and the weekly have been pushing for the last 2 years-- no growth and the blocking of any approved development.
Recall- as I stated into the other thread that you posted this comment-- you forget that Karen Holman was involved in the same acts that you complain about scharff.

Posted by MP Sub
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 3, 2017 at 6:14 pm

How dare he call this a hijacking of democracy!
Sounds like a case of sour grapes to me. Dubois is having a tantrum of epic proportions and wants to take his toys and leave the sandbox just because he lost the game at recess. Where is HIS integrity? Calling out his fellow council members and the mayor? It was a 5-4 vote. Not a dictatorship. This has been stalled for far too long, something had to be done to unclog the wheels and get things moving again.

And anyone who is stodgy enough to actually believe that Palo Alto is a residential city, and not a place for business, is living in the past! Where do you people think the money should come from to pay for your city improvements? For the running of your city? For the salaries of your public servants? Higher property taxes? You'll be angry and offended about that too. You won't want to drive to Menlo or Sunnyvale to find a decent restaurant or to receive medical care or to go shopping, would you? Nope. Enough with the "This is a residential city" nonsense. It is NOT a bedroom community. [Portion removed.]

I think a bigger problem is the blatant disrespect which is blaringly obvious within the council itself. I wish Mayor Scharff the strength and focus he will need to lead this council and this wonderful city into a future of prosperity, development, and calm.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 3, 2017 at 7:26 pm

@MP Sub writes "And anyone who is stodgy enough to actually believe that Palo Alto is a residential city, and not a place for business, is living in the past!"

Yes, the past before the election when we got over-loaded by mailers from candidates who claimed to want sensible growth and to care about the RESIDENTS who voted for them including young families, seniors, etc. But that was then, this is now.

@MP SUB asks" Where do you people think the money should come from to pay for your city improvements? For the running of your city? For the salaries of your public servants?"

Many of us are furious that ALL of the top city employees continue to get top merit raises while the quality of life declines. Many of us are furious that we can't get responses from many of the department managers who seem to consider themselves part of an imperial bureaucracy who can't be bothered to respond to calls or emails from lowly taxpayers. Many of us heard campaign promises from the 5 uber-growth candidates about fiscal responsibility but still get stuck with expensive projects we don't want and that don't work.

@MP writes, "You won't want to drive to Menlo or Sunnyvale to find a decent restaurant or to receive medical care or to go shopping, would you?"

Actually we do. Re shopping, it's usually easier to get to Menlo Park than Palo Alto so I shop there more than in Palo Alto. I go to the Trader Joe's there because it's impossible for me to go to the closer one at T&C.

Re dining, we dine in Menlo Park and Redwood City and Mountain View MUCH more often than in PA. The last time we ate in PA we did so because some friends who used to live here wanted to go to Evia. They were horrified about all the bums in the parking garage.

Tonight we're off to dinner in Menlo Park

Given the fact that the gang of 5 could so cavalierly waste our TIME and our $3,000,000 it's not surprising that RESIDENTS are furious that we're running a deficit and that our quality of life is declining.

Thank you, Tom, for saying what needed to be said. And thank you for always responding to your constituents questions and comments unlike some of the Gang of 5!

Posted by Circles
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 3, 2017 at 9:07 pm

It is surprising that a sitting member of the Council writes such a deceitful message. Our council members should be trying to work together in the boardroom to arrive at solutions [portion removed.] Our elected officials take an oath to work together to serve the community, and it's silly to take to social media if they aren't doing their own jobs.

Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 3, 2017 at 9:07 pm

In a way, our Gang of Five brought honesty to the Palo Alto process, by openly scrapping a document that city hall has consistently flouted anyway. This action will also save the city money, because planning staff won't need to spend time reinterpreting the Comp Plan to conform to each development proposal it promotes.

But how could these councilmembers have scripted this elaborate piece of theatre without blithely and massively violating the Brown Act? Shouldn't they go to jail after they're recalled?

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 3, 2017 at 10:07 pm

@Circles, what's deceitful about this piece?

It echoes what's exactly what's said in the regular PA Weeky editorial -- namely that the Gang of 5 ambushed their fellow elected officials with whom -- as you point out -- they take an oath to work together and SUMMARILY threw out ALL previous work wasting everyone's TIME and $3,000,000 of our money.

So who's being deceitful? They could have at least pretended to find something -- ANYTHING -- of value in all that wasted work.

Maybe the city can be honest and cut the Community Outreach budget since A) it never reaches the effected residents and B) They never listen anyway.

No wonder we've got a budget deficit.

And by the way, dinner in Menlo Park tonight was great. Remember shopping there will be cheaper once we get hit for the increased sales tax for VTA service we won't get.

Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 4, 2017 at 1:39 am

The Comp Plan may not be as strong as in non-charter cities. Nevertheless, there are still many protections afforded residents, tmes when development has to be consistent with the comp plan or citizens can legally challenge it.

One of those circumstances applies at Buena Vista. In other words, gutting the comp plan will make it easier to throw out the Buena Vista residents and for a developer to develop overzoned there again, since the gutting of the comp plan guts protections (that the developer knows about).

The citizen committee was a response to strict state requirements on citizen input. This gutting probably violates the law. It can be challenged. Residents have to decide whether they each care enough about Palo Alto to act.

Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 4, 2017 at 9:14 am

Thank you Council member DuBois for your candor and bravery. to many people in this town are afraid to speak the plain truth.

Democracy was hijacked. To a lesser degree perhaps democracy was hijacked at the Council retreat as well.
Pre written lists of priorities ( on large easels ) were provided by staff instead of being gathered from the comments of the public and comments and discussion of council.

This Wednesday residents will have to choose to attend the planning commission meeting, the Mayors State of the city address or the Stanford General use permit scoping session all scheduled at the same time! Divide and conquer?

The state of the city address is taking place at a private venue not at one of our numerous new meeting rooms at city hall or our libraries, or even the auditorium at the Center for Jewish Life use of which is one of the public benefits for the development. Seems more like a private party than a civic event!

What a shocking display of disrespect and power that Mayor Scharff and his cohorts displayed on Monday.

In what seemed like an orchestrated attack on colleagues, residents, staff and the comp plan citizens group, Scharff lead the way to gut the Comp Plan, and throw out two years of work. From the get-go Scharff raced through important crucial issues with out allowing for any discussion. Completely new approaches for the Content of the Comp Plan that had never been discussed before, (and really were not on the agenda) were proposed and pushed through. It was a chaotic and self-serving approach I have never seen before in city hall...a style that can easily be compared with what is going on in Washington!

Wolbach, Fine, Tanaka, Kniss, and Scharff dominated the meeting with an almost giddy attitude; it was clear that all of this had been planned. They have a tin ear when it comes to the concerns of the residents, who the Citizens Survey showed are concerned about overdevelopment, parking and traffic, an imbalance of jobs to housing, a lack of any really Transit and an ever growing feeling that our city is becoming an Office Park!

The result of this evenings action will be more and more commercial development to the diminishment of any other uses; especially the housing they have promised. Wolbach was elected on the promise of more and cheaper Housing.

There were a few times the majority got together behind issues, but it was not enough to make up for the gutting of the work on Land-Use element and the disregard for the concerns of residents.

Posted by Don Melosh
a resident of Mayfield
on Feb 4, 2017 at 3:50 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 4, 2017 at 4:50 pm

The Comp Plan may not be as strong as in non-charter cities. Nevertheless, there are still many protections afforded residents, tmes when development has to be consistent with the comp plan or citizens can legally challenge it."

All true. The comp plan provides an appearance of participatory democracy, and it is a very hopeful read.

But in practice, city planning staff cherry picks through the plan to support whatever development proposal they might be advocating, either ignoring the rest or guiding the council to amend the CP to conform to egregiously nonconforming developments. The council has customarily gone along. Hence the CP has very little real meaning.

Citizens can challenge outcomes by appealing to the council (showy, but never successful) or through the referendum process (attempted only twice in this century).

Posted by Steve Dabrowski
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 4, 2017 at 5:19 pm

Use the referendum to block CC approvals of big or otherwise noxious projects. Maybell worked wonders, should be reasonable to pull together the same technique again. Need to develop lists of signers and keep the heat on. Get all necessary documentation and sign-up sheets together in advance so we have a ready referendum process to oppose the taking of our city by this city council and their clients.

Posted by AB
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 4, 2017 at 6:20 pm

Steve Dabrowski - what exactly was done for Maybell? I agree, we need to do what we can to stop mass housing developments. I will do what I need to on my part, including getting my neighbors involved..

Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 4, 2017 at 11:23 pm

You areright that in a charter city like Palo Alto, the state rules that woukd allow us to just throw out spot zoning with a simple kawsuit do not apply. However, it's not true that it's just an advisory document.

For example, a subdivision must still comply with the subdivision map act. This means that any subdivision must still be consistent with the comp plan. It's not optional. Throw out the comp plan, and it means Palo Alto is toast as we know it. The developers will have so much more reason to evict Buena Vista residents, for example, because they suddenly don't have to worry about being shot down for spot zoning.

Also, Palo Alto citizens coukd get fed up a put together an initiative to make consustency with the comp plan non-optional, which is the case in ither cities. If the comp plan is gutted, it doesn't do much good. Citizens do not want to be in a position of having to counter overdevelopment project by project. They should be able to be a part of forming a reasonable comp plan and make it stick. I call of the Weekly to delve into that process and publish. (I have notes from learning about it but can't recall offhand.)

But I do believe what the City Council just did can be countered.

Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 4, 2017 at 11:46 pm

If you are willing to start something as a citizen, it helps to go to your nearest neighborhood group and find like-minded citizens. Or go to groups like PASZ, or neighborhood leaders around Palo Alto known to be active. Contact people like Arthur Keller who know a ton about Palo Alto and might be willing to help. Start by building coalitions and learning what can be done.

Next, understand the rules. You can get a copy of the Palo Alto City Charter online. It is like the constitution of the City. It describes the process of referendum, where you put aside an ordinance of the Council, and initiative, where you come up with your own law or rule and citizens make it happen. The Charter also describes the process of Councilmember recall.

You can get advice from the City Clerk but as others have said, don't rely completely on it. If you get citizens together, you can get advice from an appropriate attorney to do things right, too.

The residents at Maybell launched two referenda, not just one. The second was launched because of concern that the Council had inserted the Maybell rezoning in the Comp Plan and was purely to take the rezoning out of the comp plan. There was no vote on that one, City Council simply accepted it and it was done. It just involves signature gathering, paperwork, following the rules. If you are able to get together a good enough coalition, you can do that, because elections are expensive. Council just didn't think the neighbors could win a land use referendum, so they put it to a special election (the overzoning at Maybell.

One hurdle you have to realize is that currently in Palo Alto, when a referendum or initiative go to vote, the City Attorney currently has the right to write the ballot question and the "impartial" analysis. Imagine if one side in a race could write the ballot statement of the other! That is what happened at Maybell, and even though it won, it seemed to have made it harder for residents. That needs to change. If you sponsor a referendum to overturn something the Council does, you should at the same time mount an initiative to reform Palo Alto's ballot process so that it's more like San Francisco's. They are also a charter city but they have an impartial ballot process we could adapt to our needs. To do that, we need to revise the City Charter - which I believe has to involve an election.

When it comes to comprehensive plans, there are all kinds of state requirements, so it may mean a lawsuit is the thing to do, or a referendum, I just don't know. Rest assured, there is a clear process and citizens have a lot of rights. Ask various neighborhood/civic leaders. Doug Moran has a blog and is very knowledgeable. He would know others. (Don't let anyone discourage you, know the law, know what you can do. Hope for the best, plan for the worst.)

It's really time we got a group that was focused on citizens, quality of life, our youth, saving retail, etc. You will have lots of company.

Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 5, 2017 at 8:11 am

Also, talk to knowledgeable past civic leaders? I would name names, but I don't know if that would be deleted. I could name two dozen people offhand who know enough to tell you what you can do off the tops of their heads. Some of it from rules, some from what is practical under the rules. It's really not so difficult if you pull people together. Neighborhood lists are not always welcoming of citizen action but some are, or you can find likeminded people through neighborhood group then form your own lists.

Posted by AB
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 5, 2017 at 9:58 am

Thanks Neighbor, appreciate the info. I have been on the sidelines all along, under the excuse of a busy job. But, I assume most others in PA too have busy jobs, to be able to afford the massive mortgages! With the shift to pro-development council I think it is time to start getting more involved, and not let them ruin PA by building mass high density housing. I will start doing what I can on my end, and also pull in my neighbors and friends to lobby to fix PA's traffic and housing congestion problems.

Regarding naming knowledgeable past city leaders - please post the names. I dont think they will block it, it is just information. Not like you would be slandering anyone or acting in an uncivil manner..

Posted by need info
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 5, 2017 at 12:16 pm

Can someone post the URLs with information on how to do a recall so we can get organized?

Posted by Mary
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 5, 2017 at 12:20 pm

Here you go, need info:

See Article VI, Section 1 of the City Charter, which reads as follows:

"Sec. 1. Recall.

Proceedings may be commenced for recall of any council member by the service, filing and publication of a notice of intention to circulate a recall petition. Proceedings may not be commenced unless, at the time of commencement, such council member has held office for at least six months and no recall petition has been filed against such council member within the preceding six months.

The petition demanding the recall of the council member sought to be recalled, signed by registered voters equal in number to at least twelve percentum of the number of registered voters at the last general municipal election, shall be filed with the clerk. One election is sufficient for the recall of one or more council members, but a separate petition is necessary to propose the recall of each council member.

No signature may be affixed to the petition until the proponents have served, filed and published a notice of intention to circulate a recall petition, containing the name of the council member sought to be recalled, a statement in not more than five hundred words of the grounds on which the recall is sought, and the name and address of at least one proponent. The notice of intention shall be served, personally or by certified mail, on the council member sought to be recalled, and a copy thereof with a certificate of the time and manner of service shall be filed with the clerk. A separate notice of intention shall be filed for each council member sought to be recalled.

Within seven days after the filing of the notice of intention, the council member sought to be recalled may file with the clerk an answer in not more than five hundred words to the statement of the proponents and, if an answer is filed, shall serve a copy thereof, personally or by certified mail, on one of the proponents named in the notice of intention. The statement and answer are intended solely for the information of the voters and no insufficiency in the form or substance thereof shall affect the validity of the election or proceedings. The notice, statement and answer, if any, shall then be published in a newspaper of general circulation by the city clerk.

No signature may be affixed to a recall petition until the county registrar of voters has received two blank copies of the petition and has advised the proponents in writing that the form and wording are in order.

Seven days after the publication of the notice, statement and answer, if any, by the city clerk and provided all the requirements of this section re Notice of Intention, answers, and form of petition have been met, the recall petition may be circulated and signed. The petition shall bear a copy of the notice of intention, statement and answer, if any. If the council member has not answered, the petition shall so state. Signatures shall be secured and the petition filed within ninety days from the filing of the notice of intention. If such petition is not filed within the time permitted by this section, the same shall be void for all purposes.

The signatures to the petition need not all be appended to one paper, but said petition may be presented in sections. The number of signatures to each section shall be at the pleasure of the person soliciting signatures to the same. Any qualified voter of the municipality shall be competent to solicit said signatures. Unless and until it be proven otherwise by official investigation, it shall be presumed that the petition presented contains the signatures of the requisite number of qualified voters. Each signer of said petition shall at the time of signing the petition include his printed name and his place of residence, giving street and number, and if no street or number exists, then a designation of his place of residence which will enable the location to be readily ascertained and the name of the city. A place at least one-inch wide shall be left blank after each name for the use of the clerk in verifying the petition.

Each section of the petition shall have attached to it a declaration signed by the circulator of that section of the petition, setting forth all of the following:
(a) The printed name of the circulator.
(b) The residence address of the circulator, giving street and number, or if no street or number exists, adequate designation of residence so that the location may be readily ascertained.
(c) That the circulator circulated that section and saw the appended signatures being written.
(d) That according to the best information and belief of the circulator, each signature is the genuine signature of the person whose name it purports to be.
(e) That the circulator is a registered voter of the electoral jurisdiction of the officer sought to be recalled.
(f) The dates between which all the signatures to the petition were obtained.
(g) The circulator shall certify to the content of the declaration as to its truth and correctness, under penalty of perjury, with the signature of his name at length, including given name, middle name or initial, or initial and middle name. The circulator shall date the declaration immediately following his signature.

Within fifteen business days from the date of filing such petition, the clerk shall examine and ascertain from the records of registration whether or not said petition is signed by the requisite number of electors entitled to vote, and if necessary the council shall allow the clerk extra help for that purpose, and the clerk shall attach to said petition his certificate showing the result of said examination. If, by the said certificate, the petition is shown to be insufficient, it may be amended by additional signatures within ten days from the date of said certificate. The clerk shall, within fifteen business days after such amendment, make like examination of the amended petition, and if his certificate shall show the same to be insufficient, it shall be returned to the person filing the same, without prejudice, however, to the filing of a new petition to the same effect.

If the petition shall be found to be sufficient, the clerk shall submit the same to the council without delay, and the council shall thereupon order and fix a date for holding the said election within the time set by the general laws of the state of California. Candidates for this election shall file with the city clerk within the nomination period set by the general laws of the state of California.

At least ten days prior to the recall election, the clerk shall mail to each voter a sample ballot and a separate printed copy of the statement of the proponents and of the answer, if any, of the council member sought to be recalled. If the recall of more than one council member is sought, the statement and answer for each shall be printed together and shall be clearly distinguished from those of any other council member.

There shall be printed on the recall ballot, as to each council member whose recall is to be voted on, the question: "Shall (name of person) be recalled from the office of council member?" followed by the words "yes" and "no." If a majority of those voting on any question voted in favor of the removal of an incumbent, such incumbent shall be deemed removed from office upon the qualification of the successor.

On the recall ballot, under each question, there shall be printed the names of those persons who have been nominated in the manner provided herein as candidates to succeed the incumbent if such incumbent is recalled. No vote cast shall be counted for any candidate for the office unless the voter also voted on the question of the recall of the person sought to be recalled from that office. The name of the person against whom the petition is filed shall not appear on the ballot as a candidate for the office. If the vote recalls the council member, the candidate who has received the highest number of votes for the office shall be declared elected for the unexpired term of the former incumbent. If the person who received the highest number of votes fails to qualify within ten days after receiving the certificate of election the office shall become vacant. Said election shall be conducted, returned, and the results thereof declared, in all respects as are all other municipal elections; provided, that if there be any conflict of provisions this charter shall control."

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 5, 2017 at 1:42 pm

If a recall is being planned it is hard to know whether the moderators of Town Square will be supportive in allowing posts concerning it be allowed or deleted.

I would suggest using and a dedicated Facebook group as some starting places to getting out the information.

I think a recall is an excellent idea.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 5, 2017 at 2:48 pm

I can see 2 ways to organize this: setting up a group on Facebook which worked beautifully organizing for the Women's Marches / Rallies and/or writing to the publisher of Palo Alto Online : Bill Johnson <> re the logistics about setting up a private group and collecting personal information that would clearly be outside the jurisdiction of the regular moderator.

The former has all the Evite-like capabilities where you can invite like-minded people, specify whether you're going to an event or not, whether you're merely interested, calendaring, emailing, linkage to documents etc.


Posted by Mary
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 5, 2017 at 3:29 pm

I'm in if this gets some momentum behind it. I'm not much on knowing how to make use of social media, so I don't have any opinion on Online Name's alternatives. I can put up some seed money if there's enough interest shown.

The contempt for the process and lack of basic honesty shown by these "representatives" really is shocking to someone who's lived here a long while. We always have had contentious politics, but it's never been infected by this kind of machine-like dishonesty.

This will be our future if we don't punish it now.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 5, 2017 at 4:17 pm

For what it's worth, a NextDoor message was just posted that a group was set up on Facebook and on Twitter re Castilleja's expansion plans. Web Link

So maybe if we talk to the organizers behind that effort, they can advise us.

Posted by I'm in for a recall
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 5, 2017 at 4:19 pm

Let's get the pro-development city council members out! We dont need more high density housing here. I will contribute some money, as well as tech help where possible, towards a recall.

Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 5, 2017 at 5:25 pm

Hey Keenan, Baer, McNellis, Rapp, etc.

This is looking serious. Better get in here and protect your investments pronto--they ain't no good to you if they get recalled.

Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 6, 2017 at 12:11 am

@AB and Mary,
The six months part of the recall is a bit concerning, because the comp plan is the important thing here. What the Council just did may have a shorter deadline. Believe me, you don't want them to rig the comp plan. This is more important than anything else at the moment. There is citizen recourse but it is time dependent.

On the other hand, the six month provision may mean Liz Kniss may be recalled now - it's not clear. The state only requires 90 days, but PA is a charter city. But the time will go by fast - it requires ground work. Gather petition signatures asking the members of Council to resign - then it will be faster and easier to get the official signatures for a recall together.

Community leaders who could offer info and refer you to others: Doug Moran, Arthur Keller, the amazing former Councilmember Greg Schmidt, Peter Drekmeier, Bob Moss, Cheryl Lillienstein, Art Lieberman - I'm really not sure any will be happy to be posted, but there are many others. All know a lot about how the City operates and history.

Also, be sure to check out the state office of planning and research. Get a really good land use attorney and a few well heeled citizens willing to pay for the time. Citizens have fought city hall and won. Usually, they hire a good land use atty.

Posted by Tom DuBois
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 6, 2017 at 10:33 am

Tom DuBois is a registered user.

To all the commenters here and those that have called or emailed directly, I want to say “Thank You!” for your feedback. I appreciate hearing from the community and welcome all feedback to help me in this role and to help me get better at serving the people of Palo Alto.

For those that read my article or watched the video interview here - Web Link - I believe I was clear that I am concerned about the process used to refine our Comprehensive Plan and ensure that the diverse range of community input that we solicited remain part of the plan.

Some of the comments here have focused on specific policy issues that’d I’d like to comment on briefly:

Social Media - I agree this kind of discourse does not belong on social media. I wrote an article for a newspaper to be as public as possible. I did not simply post this on Facebook to share within the small echo chamber of an online “social” circle.

Housing - Those who continue to paint Council’s factions with broad strokes, please check your facts. I believe the actions of the resident-focused members of Council speak clearly for themselves and have demonstrated a strong dedication to housing. The notion that the “residentialists” as we’ve been tagged are anti-housing is simply false. I have seen focus on ensuring that those that live here are not evicted from their homes - we have had many discussions on reusing a building, rather than evicting and rebuilding. Buena Vista has been about keeping 400 people in their affordable housing. Speaking for myself, I voted for every single housing initiative the CAC brought to Council last Monday night, including one that failed by a 4-5 vote against it to consider housing in Town & Country sometime during the life of the next Comp Plan.

Office Space - Looking at the other side of the jobs-housing equation, I admit I am perplexed by those the defend the need to allow a lot more new office space. It’s difficult to understand the motivation. Financially, most office companies are not contributing to the City’s revenue. Most of the companies are either startups that, while well funded by Venture Capital, are losing money and therefore pay no taxes. Or they are service companies, like Visa, and pay no sales tax because they are not selling a taxable good. Retail, which we have tried to protect, pays sales tax, which helps the city. Residents buy more locally than commuters so even the idea that becoming more of a commuter city generates proportionally sufficient revenue for the impacts caused doesn’t hold water.

Ultimately, I think I’ve been clear that my concern is that we on Council were using a poor process to make decisions on our major road-map for the city, passing many items on a slim 5-4 vote rather than trying to get broader alignment on such an important item. We can do better. We have done so before.

Posted by sunshine
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 6, 2017 at 10:36 am

The only ones who like parking permits and more development are those who can benefit from control of City government by developers and the tech workers who want to buy or rent our homes cheaply (below market rates).
The effect of parking permits will be to push out City residents, who have paid taxes for many years. We will no longer be able to shop at the non-chain stores downtown. Only those non-chain stores that are overpriced will be able to survive. Already we have lost many of our best shops to Menlo Park )another county even) and Los Altos.
There will be a drain on good restaurants, galleries, small, individually owned shops. We will lose the best of the best. Already I have heard residents of nearby towns and visitors to Palo Alto that there are "no good restaurants" left in PA. I agree. Those that serve good food are far too noisy to enjoy a good dinner. We are left with many places to eat, but nowhere to "dine" quietly with a close friend.
It's time to get rid of the developer control of our City. Return it to the control of longtime residents who like their homes and want to stay here.

Posted by dickiebird
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 6, 2017 at 11:39 am

Typical behavior for the Silicon Valley megalomaniacs and quest for ever more $$!!

Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 6, 2017 at 12:27 pm

"The notion that the “residentialists” as we’ve been tagged are anti-housing is simply false."

It's the development interests' PR machine at work. Money-driven alternate facts abound.

Posted by Steve Dabrowski
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 6, 2017 at 4:07 pm

I'm concerned that recall may be too cumbersome compared to referendums. PASZ carried out the Maybell operation and they could be the principal resource for this kind of action. The one thing that bothered me about that effort was that it was hard to figure out where to go to sign the petitions-despite that they got a fast and overwhelming response and won the day.

I believe this week the Wong monstrosity for University Avenue downtown is going to be discussed, if ever there was a project that needs to be sent to the trash can that is it, so we will see where that goes. Although that may prove to noxious even for this bunch and they may sacrifice it to blunt growing opposition to their agenda.

Posted by CeCi Kettendorf
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 6, 2017 at 7:35 pm

I will support anyone who organizes about this.

For about fifteen years a house on my street was run as a motel. The owner directed all her tenants to park in the street so she could have her off-street parking area for her grandchildren. So, the neighborhood children could not play in their yards, because the cars owned by the many tenants violated lawns, sidewalks and driveways, turned around at high speed, blocked driveways, parked the wrong way, crowded the street in every way, crushed fences, killed pets, destroyed landscaping. A few tenants owned two cars, garaged in the street for weeks or months. The City told us for years that there is no law against any number of unrelated adults living in R1 housing unit, nor is there a restriction on the number of vehicles associated with a house, nor are they required to park off-street. So we began calling about the cars garaged in the street and unmoved for weeks. Our calls begot death threats to us, our children and vandalism to our properties.

If the house "motel" had been a legitimate business, it would have been required to register guests and their cars and park off street. Since it was a residential home, the police had little recourse and little interest.

So, now I see the off-street parking requirement, (which was already ridiculously inadequate) will be diminished. That, together with the new higher density free-for-all, will mean Grove Ave will again be a crowded street, difficult to navigate. (There are presently two other rentals on my street, one with 8 unrelated adults, each of whom parks in the street.)

I voted against that elderly housing unit proposed for Barron Park solely because it allowed for shockingly few parking spaces. Even if the "elderly" (age 62) residents were not intending to drive, were they not going to have visitors?!

I feel very sorry for those neighborhoods north of me which have been dealing to the extreme with all the discussed problems Tom Dubois raises. What a shame! Los Altos, Atherton and Menlo Park neighborhoods remain charming, while Palo Alto succumbs. I agree that Mr. Keller, with such in-depth knowledge, would have strengthened the argument of those who speak in support of reasonable development.

I am glad my children finished school before the crowding. Future children will have a diminished experience growing up in a city in which the government has no pride and fails to protect the quality of life for the now and future families. Future families will have a less harsh living experience for their children in almost any other surrounding city.

I will help with any campaign to correct this; I will walk neighborhoods to distribute literature and I will contribute. Call me. 650-493-0804 or email me at

Posted by AB
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 6, 2017 at 7:43 pm

Tom - your comment "The notion that the “residentialists” as we’ve been tagged are anti-housing is simply false" worries me. I thought I was on your side, till I saw this. Are you supporting creation of new housing? If so, then I am not aligned with you. Keeping BV is good, that does not add residents. I am talking about new new housing that would just make traffic and congestion worse.

Btw you make a good point about minimal tax revenue from startups, as most run at losses. I had not thought it through, but now I agree that it makes more sense to have retail, as at least that brings in tax revenue..

Posted by Brown
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 6, 2017 at 9:54 pm

We are manipulated. We're blinded by the parking programs and our officials want us to make this our focus and they want to expand it and have us turn on our dentists and physicians while they pocket big money from developers and sign anything that pays. Shame on you. Tanaka & co's only mission is to repay their donors. Greed greed greed greed greed, you can't eat money and next time you have an ailment remember that.

Posted by CeCi Kettendorf
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 7, 2017 at 10:13 am

An issue I never see addressed when this discussion arises is the impact on the schools. The schools largely drive property values, and yet are on the back burner when expansion is discussed. Twenty years ago, when my children were in elementary school, Fairmeadow was over-enrolled, as were other schools. There are three buildings there on what should have been playground space as designed in the 1950 plan. Regrettably, a number of neighborhood school sites had been sold off in the late 70's. The enrollment in Palo Alto will soon be greater than that at the height of the baby boom, and yet the City keeps adding high density housing (with inadequate parking,) straining the ability of the schools to accommodate the growing school age population moving in. I realize there is a need for housing, and YES! I know that the PAUSD is separate from the city and funded separately, and isn't asking, etc. However, as space is used up, the opportunity to build a school with fields or at least a playground is gone forever. It is the responsibility of city planners anywhere to plan for schools. Why does Palo Alto not consider future needs? Where do the children play?
It is of note that when the meetings were held for all those years asking for public input as to what to do with the East Meadow Circle site, the moderator would ask at the beginning of the meeting, "If you are here solely to tell us, 'No more housing,' raise your hands." 95% of those in the room would raise their hands. The reply was, "Duly noted. You may leave if that is all you wish to say." 95% of the room would stand up and leave.
I stayed to speak for the schools, since this end of town lost the Ramos Park site school. I thought a neighborhood school there would be perfect. Of course, Google bought the site.

Posted by Sell Out
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 7, 2017 at 11:25 am


"Tom - your comment "The notion that the “residentialists” as we’ve been tagged are anti-housing is simply false" worries me. I thought I was on your side, till I saw this."

It's simple, the way you are thinking just goes to show why we have a pro-development Council which does not have any ethics nor integrity. Additionally, instead of looking at what is said and putting it in context, you choose an interpretation that shows you are a defeatist.

Tom DuBois is a reasonable, sensible and caring person who is really working hard to ensure the residents in Palo Alto retain their quality of life, whatever it may be. And he is no sell out.

Posted by Oldster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 7, 2017 at 11:41 am


You are so right about the bad planning the City did when it sold off school sites for housing and offices as the (first) baby boom ended. Cubberley is due this year for some planning review. Crossing my fingers that land stays to benefit schools first and parks & recreation instead of the lease for max dollars and to favored nonprofits it's been recently.

With the new federal Education Secretary who favors school choice by making it easier to have more charter schools, I wonder what will happen to our old public schools which are now rented to profit and nonprofit schools? And, as PAUSD goes bankrupt trying to pay its unfunded liabiliities to retired staff and teachers what will happen to our current public school sites?

Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 7, 2017 at 3:14 pm

"I'm concerned that recall may be too cumbersome compared to referendums."

Referendums just treat the symptoms. Recall cures the disease.

Posted by AB
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 8, 2017 at 6:23 am

@Sellout - how dies adding housing to congested PA held quality of life? Your comment about why having an anti-housing attitude leads to a pro-development council also makes no sense whatsoever.

Posted by Palo Altan
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 8, 2017 at 9:33 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 8, 2017 at 9:58 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by MP Sub
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 8, 2017 at 10:15 pm

MP Sub is a registered user.

RECALL??? Now there's an awesomely ridiculous idea. Stop with the recall chant already. The election is over. [Portion removed.]

Posted by Tom DuBois
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 12, 2017 at 1:42 pm

Tom DuBois is a registered user.

I thought Greg Scharff gave a very good speech earlier this week at the State of City talk. Thank you Greg for clarifying your intention that the programs will not be removed. Grouping the Programs will be only a formatting change and all the work of the CAC will remain in the Comprehensive Plan.

As I described, there was a lot of confusion to what exactly was voted on and what the impact would be among City staff, Council members and the public. Council always has the ability to determine which programs get priority and to amend the Comp Plan.

It will be good to have these elements come back to Council very soon for the entire Council to clarify that the programs will remain part of the Comprehensive Plan

Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 12, 2017 at 3:24 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Retraction?
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 12, 2017 at 4:25 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

Posted by CeCi Kettendorf
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 12, 2017 at 9:56 pm

I do not have faith that the majority of City Council members have the welfare of the city guiding their actions, even if some of then have backtracked in the wake of the outcry.
I will help any group which organizes for referendum or recall.

CeCi Kettendorf 650-493-0804

Posted by Pat Burt
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 12, 2017 at 11:24 pm

I was traveling when the Council took up this issue two weeks ago so I did not get to watch the meeting live. Since there seemed to be conflicting claims about what action the Council took on this key issue of removing all Programs from the Land Use Element of the Comprehensive Plan, this evening I watched the full Council discussion.
Whatever the merits of the action, the meeting record indicates that Tom Dubois was being gracious in his post above under a hope that Mayor Scharff and the Council will reconsider their action. Despite the Mayor's claim in his State of the City address and February newsletter, removing the Programs from the Comp Plan was not merely a "formatting change". The Council, unless changed at a future meeting, has removed all programs from the Land Use Element. Wolbauch made the motion, seconded by Fine, explicitly supported by Scharff and clarified by the Planning Director at Scharff's request that the Programs would not be part of the Comp Plan, but would be put into a laundry list addendum of not adopted Programs for future consideration. The discussion begins around 5:15 on the Media Center tape, Web Link
They would have no weight other than being a reference as Programs that the CAC considered and recommended, but the Council did not adopt. It was clearly stated that these Programs may or may not be taken up over the 13 year or longer duration of the Comp Plan. Absent a future Council action outside of the Comp Plan, these Programs would not proceed.
This was a very significant departure from our past Comp Plans and the work of the CAC, City Council and staff over the past two years that was proposed and voted on after 10PM without any forewarning or ability to comment by the public or the CAC. Filseth requested that CAC Co-Chair Dan Garber be allowed to comment on the action, but Mayor Scharff denied that request.

Posted by AL Franken
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 14, 2017 at 5:30 pm

Thank you @Pat Burt for shedding some light on the Comp Plan debacle. It appears that the actions taken by a slim 5/4 Council majority on January 30th do not line up with what Mayor Scharff claimed in his State of the City speech, “No programs were discarded or cancelled. Instead the direction was to bring the Comp Plan back to Council with the programs in a separate Appendix. This is in effect a formatting change that many other communities use when developing their comp plan. It allows the key goals and policies to remain in place for the long term while giving more flexibility to future City Councils to adjust implementation measures as circumstances dictate and as conditions change.”

I went back and reviewed the video. At 5:44 Councilmember Holman queries the paid city consultant about what is typically in a comp plan to which the consultant replies that goals, objectives, policies and programs are typical of most Comp Plans. She said that work would need to be done if the pending motion was approved because it would result in removing the programs from the Comp Plan. She seemed clear in her understanding that the appendix is not a part of the Comp Plan because it is not a legal requirement. If I understood correctly other council members opined that policies would now need to be rewritten to cover the policies that now might only be articulated in required programs that are currently in the Comp Plan.

I also think that several members mischaracterized the Comp Plan by stating that it was written in 1998 with the implication that what was written decades ago was constraining the current council and therefore they didn’t want to include specific programs in the new Comp Plan. If you look on the city website you can see that many parts have been updated, some as recently as 2015. Web Link My understanding is the Comp Plan can be updated at any time. Perhaps others can weigh in on this.

Also, at 5:43 in addition to Councilmember Filseth, Councilmember Wolbach also requested to hear from CAC co-chair Dan Garber who was in attendance. The mayor declined his request. I hope in the future the mayor will be open to hearing from our local leaders on matters of such great significance to our current and future community.

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